The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away.
Sometimes doing both rather suddenly.
Blessed be the name of the Lord.
It’s January. Bitter cold, and quite fitting. Memories of last January are hard to shake. The New Year had been very naively planned out and anticipated. As the month continued, plans were halted, changed, new plans laid, and then all plans shattered all in a roller coaster we never saw coming. On the last day of that previous December, something came up in conversation about miscarriage between my brother and his wife and Jason and I. “You guys never went through that, right?” my brother asked.
I hadn’t, and I remember thinking how thankful I was that that bitter cup had passed over me. We had no plans to have any more biological children (something I in many ways had already grieved) and were beginning the foster-to-adopt process at that point. I had no idea that this was a valley I was about to be blindsided with.
Sometimes we think we learn lessons, but we haven’t really, fully- yet. If you think you learned something it’s quite possible that that’s a sign you haven’t really learned it at all. This is what I’m learning.
When we found out we were expecting our third child, I posted James 4:14-15 on Facebook. Because this baby was not “tried for” or “planned” and was a complete surprise (something you don’t just tell people after miscarrying because you don’t need to give anyone one more reason to invalidate your grief. Even though the grief is just as real and suffocating, and uniquely shocking; and it comes with it’s own separate list of questions to God). I thought I had learned the lesson of “don’t pretend like you know what the future holds- God’s got surprises.” But one week later those verses meant something new to me again- a bitter, truer lesson to actually heart-learn in an utterly broken heart. I thought I learned not to be confident of the future but to tread carefully. But I had just spent the past few days planning this new, unplanned future- getting out the baby blankets and dreaming of genders. Talking with Jason about bunk bed plans for our boys. Looking up hospitals and doctors. After posting the lesson I thought I learned from James, I went ahead planning the future I knew was coming. And then those plans were taken away.
“Instead say ‘If the Lord wills…'”
From standing cluelessly still on earth, to being gift-given and tossed high in the hopeful clouds of dreams, to being shoved back down and deeper yet into a dark pit of death and loss… all in a matter of a handful of days… I have wept much, broken much, and learned much.
There’s two very distinct moments of our short time with Baby Ellis that are as fresh in my mind now as if they happened moments ago. One is when I first saw that plus sign, and the surprise and excitement of new life filled me. The second is when I first saw blood. And the fears and sorrow of what I might lose flooded me.
There’s been a whole mountain range of pain and hurt and suffering through losing our baby. One of those mountains is that too often people don’t seem to realize you lost a baby. That first week of loss was specifically lonely because the announcements had not yet been made. And I found myself constantly holding on to the ever shredding shred of hope that they could still be.
But even after holding out hope gave way and announcements of loss were told instead, there was a unique loneliness I’ve since learned is often a trait with this area of loss.
I started bleeding on the day of the March for Life. My Facebook feed and news stories were filled with people standing up for the unborn and preaching and teaching all the plethora of reasons that at the moment of conception there was a fully-human life. A child, a baby. I had read about all the forming and development that happens even at 4 weeks.
So how is it that an aborted baby is treated as more human than a miscarried one within the bounds of pro-life circles? Mourned for more? Honored more deeply? This is not just my experience- this is common with those I’ve been able to connect with through this shared suffering. The pro-life message will be preached all day about the humanity of that aborted one; but when you miscarry you have “lost the pregnancy”, can “try again”, are told “it’s common”, “at least you have other children”, “there was probably something wrong with the baby so this is a blessing” (man, if this isn’t the most pro-choice thing for a “pro-life” person to say)- and a whole list of yet more hurtful statements I can’t bear to log here. I know people were trying to comfort. But these are not pro-life statements.
One of the surprising elements of the grief process for me was this burden to then educate and create awareness for others to better understand and sympathize with the grief. Feeling the weight of needing to “correct” harsh statements, or to explain the situation more clearly for someone’s understanding. When utterly depleted emotionally, this is very, very difficult. Especially in the moment, on the spot.
Because trying again isn’t always in the plans; and even if it were this isn’t exactly some game where you just roll up the sleeves, give it another toss of the dice, and replace a human with another who may get a “successful” ending.
And my pregnancy was not lost. My pregnancy ended like the hideous flip-side of the beautiful ending to my other pregnancies. Ultrasound screens were turned away, doctor’s faces grim, heartbeats unheard. My baby died inside of me, my body went through painful contractions of death, and my baby was born 34 weeks early, dead, in my bathroom. I’m not trying to sound harsh or crass- I’m trying to explain why to someone who has gone through this, saying the “pregnancy was lost” is what can sound harsh and crass.
And yes- I have two other children. Who stood outside the bathroom door needing their mommy who was screaming from the pain and sights inside the burial room. Two children who their mommy was overwhelmed with having to care for because of the torment she was going through. Children whose needs clashed with the doctor’s orders to rest. And so yes, while my gratitude for them was always present, what I needed was not a reminder to look to them, but helping hands to care for them. And a recognition that two lives can’t replace the one that is missing.
And then there is the brutal silence. Those who say nothing. Who don’t even utter an “I’m sorry.” Nancy Guthrie, in her book “Holding on to Hope” explains it best. After rattling off her list of everything hurtful people said after her baby Hope died, she writes, “But to tell you the truth, it hasn’t been what people have said but what they haven’t said that has been the most difficult to deal with… ‘How could you add to my pain by ignoring it?'”
If you’re sincerely pro-life, then you know- truly know- that a baby just died. You know not to minimize that horror, downplay it, or ignore it. You know to weep with those who weep, and come alongside the sufferer the same way you would anyone else who loses someone. Some people say they don’t know what to do when someone they know miscarries. That’s why they do nothing. Or even say nothing. But actually, we do know what to do. We know in our society and in our church circles what to do when a family member is lost. What to do when physical trauma and doctor’s appointments overtake someone. We know to send flowers. Cards. Meals. Help. We have bereavement ministries and protocols.
But when miscarriage is not viewed as a life lost, as a trauma endured, and a tragedy- it is left out of these responses.
And before I even go farther here trying to explain the hurt of this, hear me loud and clear that there were many who revealed themselves to be among those who “got it”. Who did give flowers, cards, help, listening ears, handmade treasures of remembrance, notes of encouragement, verses, and- most cherished of all- their tears.
Again, Nancy writes, “Every person’s effort to acknowledge my loss- no matter how small, no matter how much time has passed- is significant and remembered.” Often people don’t want to say anything because they don’t want to cause pain. But the pain is always there. It’s always carried. And when others acknowledge Ellis, yes, it may cause my tears to flow. But those tears are always held in. And it is a relief to release them because of the balm of other’s recognition.
To each of you who have listened, cried, texted, created, called, prayed, and sent: “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you”.
“This is God’s plan”, “God works all things to good”, “God is in control”- spiritual quips that are surely true, but when said to a sufferer can be given quite tritely and received quite heavily. I had spent three days sobbing in the same chair begging God to let our baby live. “Even if” held new meaning when He didn’t.
The spiritual confusion that overtook me upon our loss was shocking. I grew up in a Christian home, always attended church, went to Bible college, and had even just finished reading the Bible through in 6 months. I should have had this, right? But nothing can teach you the lessons of God quite like suffering can. And no check list can prepare you for the test.
A significant part of my confusion was due to the fact that we weren’t trying to get pregnant. Not because we didn’t desire another biological child, but because we were seeking to obey the prodding of God to take care of the orphans. And though with our two boys we had to plan and plan and plan in the attempt to get pregnant… with Ellis we were using those planning measures to not get pregnant. When we found out we were expecting, I grinned and declared “Wow, this is such a God thing.”
As I bled and curled up in pain the next week, those words played in my head… this is such a God thing.
What do we do when the God who forms stops forming? When He gives you just enough of something to take it all away? When you then choose to seek Him and cry out to Him, and He responds with His silence? When the joy and peace of the Lord doesn’t flood you like you think it should? Suddenly Jeremiah 1:5 was painful. And knowing God was with me all the time hurt. I’ve realized a lot along this journey, and one lesson is what a lack of a proper theology of suffering the American Church has. The ways the prosperity gospel sneaks into Baptist pews. That those pews often don’t know how to handle someone who is in pain, without just wanting to give it a spiritual band-aid that simply fixes it. That weeping with those who weep is so rare. That when we say “as long as everyone’s okay” as the what “really matters” after a hardship, we are missing the mark.
What about when everyone’s not okay? When the “even if” happens?
And what about where babies go after they die? Do we really know what we believe? Because when the stakes are so high, it can take more than David’s words in 2 Samuel 12:23 to comfort you. When you really study it because it matters so much to you, you see the holes and cracks in those verses being the case-closed. I had thought I knew what I believed in this area, but was taking that for granted. Once it mattered so much, I had to invest some serious study time.
When we are weak in our pain, Satan attacks. I was slammed with doubt, anxiety, and depression. And one of the worst weapons he used was false guilt. I remember in those days, weeks, and months after losing Ellis, when I would snap at the boys, get behind on my to-do list, feel overwhelmed with motherhood- how Satan would whisper to my battleground mind, “That’s why God didn’t let you have Ellis. You couldn’t handle another. You’re not a good enough mom to have kept Ellis.” I cannot describe the agony of the false guilt I was fighting.
But I kept reading His Word, where suffering is not sugar-coated and pain is allowed. Where there is a time to mourn. Where we learn that God being with you and helping you can coincide with agony and confusion and grief. Where #blessed is redefined and what really matters is Christ alone, even if everyone’s not okay. What a life boat God’s book has been.
I realized doubt can be not a sign of weakness, but of strength. Not a revelation of weak faith, but the growing pains of it. When you come to truly recognize for the first time how indescribably phenomenal what you believe is; and the mind literally can’t wrap around it.
And I cried through the words of worship music as the lyrics took on a whole new meaning. And I learned that “It is well with my soul” is not some lovely sounding, inspirational lullaby, but a battle cry declared through gritted teeth and tortured heart and tear-stained face.
And I remember the day we got the call confirming the miscarriage, I went to pray with the kids for dinner. I began with my usual autopilot prayer, “Thank you for this day.” I choked on the words. Realizing their meaning. Wondering if I meant it. And then remembered- I thank Him often for the day His child died. How could I withhold my thanks for the day mine did?
“Thank you for this day.”
What Miscarriage Means
Miscarriage means taking almost a year to write a blog because it is a mountain to climb. Knowing still, once you climb that mountain, there is no way a mere blog can adequately communicate your message. But you have to try to communicate it anyways.
Miscarriage means the invasion of death not just into your very home but your very body. It means the death of your child where you want them to be the safest. Where you should be able to protect them the most.
Miscarriage means having panic attacks checking the mail. Coming home from the ER with paperwork on miscarriage and finding prenatal vitamins delivered. And then a few days later, leggings you ordered for maternity wear. And for months after that, medical bills.
Miscarriage means salt in wounds in a thousand different places. Triggers constant. Baby sections. Comments. The restaurant you can no longer go to because you went when you bled. Follow up doctor’s appointments that seem to never end as you wait for the HCG to deplete. Having the death of your child be forever a part of your personal medical history. And all the times that allows it to be brought up by who knows who.
Miscarriage means feeling like you are walking death. The glow of the life-giving-body replaced with a womb that became a tomb. Feeling like you in your gloom and despair are a dark-cloud to everyone else’s sunny weather. Feeling like you failed. Like you are a burden. Stained.
Miscarriage means taking months and months to post pictures. Just taking them was such a painful reminder of loss. Such a document of whatever stage of grief I was experiencing. Posting them affirmed it all even more deeply. You are missing, sweet one.
Miscarriage means countless shattered dreams. Loss unfolding. So many say of early term loss, how good that you weren’t further along. I’ve never understood why we would be happier that someone died younger. When you lose someone you don’t just lose them in that static moment, you lose their whole future. The earlier you lose a baby, the more future you watch play out without them. The more weeks to watch your belly not grow. I lost Ellis. And because of how early I lost my baby, I lost even getting to know if Ellis was a boy or girl. This constantly tears my heart. I lost even having one, single ultrasound picture. What I would give to have just one! I lost celebrating Ellis with so many others. Not even making it far enough along to have had enough time to tell even my own sons the exciting news of their new sibling. I lost hearing a heartbeat, or ever feeling any movement. What I would give to have had more time with Ellis. To have been able to have seen and held my baby if I had made it farther along before losing him… or her.
Miscarriage means understanding why hearing “Let me know if you need anything…” can feel more like a task given than help offered. And why it’s so dangerous to compare pain. And why time doesn’t heal. But instead reveals more and more lost milestones and reminders of what is missing.
Miscarriage means fighting tears when you sing “Happy Birthday” to your two children, because you know you’ll never get to sing it to your third.
Miscarriage means sleep deprivation; not from newborn cries, but from your own. Falling asleep crying and waking up mid-sob. Finally falling back to sleep just to have nightmares too horrific to type.
Miscarriage means understanding why the Psalmist called it the shadow of death. As everything is indeed so shadowed. And understanding why the Psalmist referred to “drowning in tears”. Not being sure which you’re more afraid of- crying every day for the rest of your life, or the first day you don’t.
Miscarriage means knowing your family will never be complete.
And while miscarriage means a lot of different things to the different people who go through it, we should all feel the weight that miscarriage means a baby died.
When Ellis died, a baby died.
A son or daughter.
A niece or nephew.
It’s not just the mother who loses someone when she miscarries.
There is a quote from “This is Us” referring to a family member who was only able to be a part of the family for a very short time before passing away. At his funeral, his daughter-in-law says, “And even though we only had him for a few months, we’ll remember things as ‘before William’ and ‘after William’.”
Yes. Yes, dear Ellis. Even though we only had you for a few weeks, there will always be a dividing line in time. Before Ellis, and after Ellis.
Miscarriage means lighting candles. Building a cross. Sunflower comfort.
Miscarriage means trusting in resurrection power. Knowing Him deeper. It means being homesick for heaven. Understanding more deeply what we’ve been saved from. And falling in love more with the Rescuer. Miscarriage means a suffering that produces steadfastness.
Miscarriage means faith tested, yet proven. Satan attacking, but Satan defied. Nightmares from hell, but dreams of heaven.
Miscarriage means hope.